Archive for the ‘minimum tax credit’ Tag

Back to Basics Part XXII – Form 6251 – AMT

Originally published in the Cedar Street Times

September 4, 2015

AMT, or “Alternative Minimum Tax” was enacted in 1969 in response to a disturbing report by the Secretary of the Treasury that 155 taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes over $200,000 paid zero tax on their 1967 tax returns.

In its simplest form, AMT is a separate taxation system with its own set of rules that runs parallel to the regular tax system.  You are supposed to run the calculations under both systems, and if the AMT system says you owe more tax than the regular system, then you pay the incremental difference as “AMT.”  That incremental difference shows up as additional tax on Line 45 (2014) of your Form 1040.  The calculation of AMT is summarized on Form 6251 and accompanying worksheets, as well as AMT versions of traditional schedules.

The irony of the AMT system is that most of the loopholes it was originally designed to prevent, no longer exist, and it has become a tax that affects the middle and upper-middle class more than the wealthy, yet we still have it and all of its complications.  Today, those who are subject to it, despise its existence, and not many people fully understand it, tax practitioners included.

For people still preparing returns by hand, AMT is an absolute nightmare since many of your other schedules have to be calculated a second time using AMT rules.  For instance, depreciation rules differ between the AMT system and the regular system, as accelerated depreciation methods are generally not allowed.  This means you have to keep an entirely separate set of depreciation schedules just for AMT.  And to make matters more complicated, California does not conform to all of the Federal AMT rules either.  So now you end up with four sets of depreciation schedules – Federal regular, CA regular, Federal AMT, and CA AMT.

I do not think I have ever seen a hand-prepared return done correctly when AMT is involved.  (Actually, in the last ten years, I do not think I have seen any hand-prepared returns done correctly!)

So when do you hit AMT?  It depends.  AMT is calculated on taxable income under about $185,000 at a flat 26 percent rate, and income over that mark at 28 percent.  There is a $53,600-$83,400 AMT exemption amount depending on filing status.

Compared to the regular system, the standard deduction is thrown out (meaning itemizing is your only option), your normal exemptions for yourself, spouse and dependents get the boot, as do many itemized deductions such as state taxes, real estate taxes, mortgage interest on home equity debt (if the funds were not used to improve your home), unreimbursed employee business expenses, tax preparation fees, investment advisory fees and more.

As mentioned before, depreciation methods are not as generous, also ISOs and ESPPs have less tax-friendly rules, investment interest can be hacked, and a whole bunch of other specific differences that apply to certain situations.

Since some people will have more AMT adjustments and preferences than other people, there is no set dollar threshold that will trigger AMT.  That said, I feel that I rarely see it for a Married Filing Joint return with under $100,000 of adjusted gross income.  It also starts phasing out for people with high incomes.  The top AMT rate is 28 percent, but has fewer deductions than the regular system.  Besides a handful of lower brackets, the regular system also has 33, 35 and 39.6 percent brackets, but with more deductions.  At some point, however, the higher tax rates outweigh the additional deductions and the regular system results in more tax than the AMT system. You may pay no AMT once you get to $600,000 or $700,000 of income, depending on your AMT adjustments.

People in AMT that are employees often feel trapped, especially those in the sales industry that are used to generating a lot of deductions from vehicle mileage and other expenses their employers do not reimburse.  It does not matter how many unreimbursed expenses they come up with, they will all get thrown out in the AMT system.

For people that flip back and forth between years of AMT and no AMT, there can be a minimum tax credit generated by the AMT you paid that can be helpful.  If you paid AMT in one year, and the next year the regular tax system is higher than the AMT system, you can get a credit against your regular tax to the extent of the difference between the two tax systems limited to the credit amount generated by certain deferral type AMT adjustments/preferences.  Got it?  Just trust me, sometimes it can help!  There are also sometimes when flipping can be a negative…fairness is not always the result of our tax system.

The best news we have had about AMT in recent years was that in 2013 Congress finally legislated an annual inflation adjustment for the AMT exemption.  For years Congress was in a habit of passing an AMT patch in late December or January to make up for the fact that the exemption was not inflation adjusted, and would return to 1993 levels if nothing was done.

Tax professionals were biting their nails some years wondering if it would happen.  The impacts on middle class Americans would have been tremendous, and many were oblivious.  I read estimates in 2011 that 4 million taxpayers were subject to the AMT, but without a patch that number would have swelled to 31 million!  I can remember running scenarios for a family making around $100,000 and realizing they would have a surprise tax bill of an additional $2,000 or so without a patch.

The form itself is only two pages.  Part I is a summary of all the adjustments and preferences that differ from the regular tax system, to arrive at Alternative Minimum Taxable Income (AMTI).  Part II deals with calculating your AMT exemption, your Tentative Minimum Tax (tax calculation under the AMT system), and then the AMT itself (the amount your Tentative Minimum Tax exceeds the regular tax system amount).  Part III is a supplemental calculation that feeds into Part II when your return includes capital gains, qualified dividends, or the foreign earned income exclusion.

If you have questions about other schedules or forms in your tax returns, prior articles in our Back to Basics series on personal tax returns are republished on my website at www.tlongcpa.com/blog .

Travis H. Long, CPA is located at 706-B Forest Avenue, PG, 93950 and focuses on trust, estate, individual, and business taxation. He can be reached at 831-333-1041.

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